So cunning was the sculptor's work that the story was told that it would come alive to guard the pass against any invader. Prodigious amounts of wealth were spent on grandiose projects such as these. The city of Lothern grew from a small fishing village to a great city to accommodate the increase in trade from the colonies and other realms. Contact was made with the old human empire in Cathay. Representatives of the Phoenix King arrived at the court of the Emperor of Cathay.
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Silk, jade and spices became valued commodities in Ulthuan. Secure in their strength, the Elves began to run down their armies and fleets. After nearly fifteen hundred years of relative peace under Bel-Korhadris and Aethis, memories of old wars and old enmities began to fade. Approaches were made to the Dwarfs about the return of the Phoenix Crown. These were rebuffed, but the Elves took no insult. A certain complacency set in. Many nobles cast aside their martial pursuits and traditions, thinking such brutal arts an ill fit for these civilised times.
Factions sprang up at court, and intrigue — always a dangerous pastime among the Elves — became a way of life for many. Where only a handful of generations earlier a prince would have proved his worth with sword or wisdom, now he did so by delivering prettily spoken compliments and razor-sharp epigrams. Not all in Ulthuan surrendered entirely to indolence, however.
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In the north, Prince Valedor of Ellyrion ensured that the watch on the great gates never faltered, and that the warriors there received the best training and the finest wargear that Ulthuan could provide. On one occasion, Valedor happened upon several nobles of the Phoenix King's court as they were about the business of emptying one of the Griffon Gate's armouries. Scores of wagons were already loaded with fine-wrought ithilmar scale and Dragon plate when Valedor encountered them.
Flush with royal authority, the nobles spoke boldly at first, informing Valedor that the Phoenix King wished the 'surplus' to be used as costume at his latest theatrical masterpiece. Valedor flew into a rage and struck down the speaker with a single blow of his mailed fist, at which point the nobles — craven and pleasure-loving wretches to an Elf — fled, leaving Valedor's warriors to return the armour to its proper place.
It later transpired that Aethis had given no such instruction; the nobles had acted on their own initiative in order to gain their king's favour.
None of this would preserve Prince Valedor, however. Little by little, his name and reputation were whittled apart by those he had thwarted. Within a year, he had been stripped of all honour and title, and his family divested of their ancestral wealth. Once more, the Cult of Luxury began to spread, this time cloaked in a secrecy that made it even more attractive to jaded Elf aristocrats.
After a while, the Swordmasters of Hoeth began to investigate the cult and report back to the White Tower. Their findings disturbed the High Loremaster sufficiently for him to take them to the Phoenix King. The Chancellor of the Court was revealed as a secret spy for Naggaroth. As he was unmasked, he drove a poisoned dagger through Aethis' heart, and so the eighth Phoenix King was slain by a trusted friend. Although learned, Morvael had little real experience of statecraft or warfare. His first act after his coronation was to order a punitive attack on Naggaroth.
An Elf fleet was dispatched to the cold north and was massacred by the Dark Elves. As the few survivors brought word of the defeat back to Ulthuan, panic spread among the High Elves. The last thing they had expected was defeat. They had supposed the threat of Naggaroth all but extinguished, but now it seemed that the Dark Elves had merely been rebuilding their strength. By allowing their fleets and armies to be run down under Bel-Korhadris and Aethis, the Elves of Ulthuan had allowed their dark kindred to catch up and perhaps even surpass in military might.
They retook the cursed city of Anlec and cast up a great fortress in the rubble. Swiftly, they pushed south and were stopped only after desperate fighting around the Griffon Gate. Desperate for soldiers, Morvael organised the system of troop levies that still exists in Ulthuan today. This required every Elf to spend at least part of the year as part of a military force, and to provide wargear for himself. Thus was the depleted population of Ulthuan able to field mighty armies of citizen-soldiers well beyond that which it could otherwise have mustered.
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Morvael, having been forcibly confronted by his mediocre skills as a general over the course of earlier defeats, appointed Mentheus of Caledor as field commander. Morvael was a sensitive and highly-strung soul, often troubled by terrible nightmares and dreams. He did not care for sending his friends and subjects to their deaths, but in order to preserve the realm, there was little else he could do.
He emptied the coffers of the Phoenix Throne to build a new and powerful fleet capable of carrying the war to the northern seas and stopping the flow of reinforcements from Naggaroth. He was forced to use the Swordmasters of Hoeth and other agents to seek out the devotees of the Cult of Pleasure — who, as before, provided the Dark Elves with a network of influential spies — and it was his unpleasant task to sign the many death warrants that resulted.
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Many long nights Morvael would brood in his tower, and before long, he was turned stoop-shouldered and prematurely old by the weight of his crown. Yet no matter how deep Morvael's despair grew, it never overcame his sense of duty. He relied ever more upon his closest advisors and drew fresh strength from their own faith to replenish his own frail resolve. Mentheus of Caledor ever remained his closest confidant, and Morvael soon came to rely on his general's counsel and friendship as surely as he depended upon his leadership and skill in battle. For over a century, intermittent warfare blazed.
The fleets of Ulthuan ranged the seas destroying Dark Elf slaving ships. Two new fortresses were built far from Ulthuan to enable these long range missions to be accomplished. At the tip of the Dark Continent, the Fortress of Dawn was built to refit the fleets and protect the trade routes to Cathay.
At the tip of Lustria , the Citadel of Dusk was completed, as a base from which the Elf fleets could guard the coasts of southern Lustria. Eventually the war reached its climax. Mentheus of Caledor besieged Anlec with a great army of Elves. Morvael remained in the Shrine of Asuryan awaiting the outcome of the battle.
Every night he was assailed by ever more dreadful dreams, which some say were sent by the Witch King to plague him. With every day that passed, he became ever more despairing and hopeless as messengers brought him reports that made much of the army's casualties and little of its chances of victory.
Yet despite Morvael's fears, the forces of Ulthuan ultimately proved victorious. Alas, the High Elves would yet have to bear two further tragedies in the face of triumph. On the final day when Anlec fell, Mentheus was killed as he led the assault. His great Dragon, Nightfang , went berserk with rage and grief, slaughtering many Dark Elves and their monstrous thralls.
News of Mentheus' death finally shattered Morvael's resolve. Weary unto death, listless and depressed, the Phoenix King abdicated by walking into the sacred flame of Asuryan. No mortal frame could twice endure such a trial. From midnight until noon the next day, Morvael's body burned upon the sacred pyre; as the sun reached its apex, a cold wind from the north gathered up his ashes and scattered them across the Inner Sea. The Ninth Council ended in deadlock, a tie between the faction that wanted a warlike king and those who preferred a peacemaker.
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In the end, a compromise was reached and Bel-Hathor , a wizard prince of Saphery, was chosen and crowned. Bel-Hathor seemed an inauspicious choice; like most Sapherian princes he was something of an eccentric. Many of the other princes saw him as easily manipulable towards their faction's ends. They were wrong. Bel-Hathor turned out to be surprisingly strong-willed — through sheer personality he managed to quell much of the infighting that had plagued the Phoenix King's court since the time of Aethis. He refused all attempts to force him to order an invasion of Naggaroth.
He knew that, although Ulthuan could probably win such a war, the cost would be too high. Even numbers had so declined that many of the cities were half-empty and many of the lands abandoned. He was not prepared to gamble the future of the Elven race against the possibility of vengeance.